Heart of Glass

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; A palace and a prison on each hand.
– Lord Byron

Got up this morning as usual just after 8.00am to another bright and sunny morning; this time in the amazing Venice.  We had last been here on the Norwegian Crown in 2003, so we were excited to be back in this unique city.

What springs to mind when you think of Venice?  As well as the famous canals, bridges and gondolas, there is art, theatre, music and beautiful handmade glass, and of course, those fantastic detailed masks.  Today we were booked on a trip to the islands of Murano and Burano.

After breakfast we had to assemble in the Queen’s Room until our number was called for us to board the boat to take us to the islands.  A large pontoon had been attached to the Queen Victoria on Deck A, and we made our way down there and boarded the double-decker boat, choosing to sit inside downstairs where we’d be sheltered from the breeze.  We were advised that it would take about 45 minutes to reach Murano, and in the meantime we looked forward to enjoying the scenic ride in the Venice Lagoon.

Our boat sedately made its way around the bottom of the main island on which Venice and the Grand Canal are situated.  We spotted the famous St Mark’s Campanile, the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica in Piazza San Marco.  To the right of it we could also see the Doge’s Palace, adjoined to a former prison by the instantly-recognisable Bridge of Sighs.  The bridge is so-called because those unfortunates being sent to prison would take a last look at Venice and give a big sigh before being incarcerated.

We continued round, passing the buoys and pilings marking out the route the boat was to take, as well as other small craft. Eventually we arrived at a landing stage in the isle of Murano, which is situated north-east of Venice.  We all disembarked the boat and stood waiting expectantly.

Our guide led us along the short walk until we arrived at the factory where the famous Murano glass is produced.  Inside, we were led into a workshop which was nice and warm due to the furnaces where the glass was fired.  One of the artisans was going to show us how the glass was made.  Our guide explained he was 57 and had been glass-blowing for 43 years, since he was 14 in fact.

We watched, enthralled, as the artisan brought the molten glass out of the furnace on the end of a long pole, added various coloured powdered elements to it, then shaped it with tongs and rollers before blowing it into a bulb shape.  Every now and then he’d return it to the furnace to soften it, and eventually it was shaped into a vase with a fluted rim.

The artisan then spent only a few minutes moulding an apparently shapeless piece of glass into a prancing horse shape, what is known as a cavallino.  He made it look easy, but then again that is the sign of a true expert.  There was also a selection of plates, goblets and other glassware on display, with a large sign demanding that people “DO NOT TOUCH”.

After this fascinating demonstration, we were invited into the shop to look at the amazing array of beautiful glassware, from mirrors to chandeliers to carafes and wine glasses, coffee sets and ornaments.  In particular, I was interested in the jewellery and any glass pendants or beads.

I ended up buying a gorgeous pink leather wraparound bangle, with a large glass bead surrounded by several smaller beads and crystals, for a cost of €70,00.  Some of the larger pieces cost thousands; such as a coffee set with pot, cups, saucers and tray for €5,000 and a wine carafe and six glasses for €2,000.  We also saw a large, ornate and very detailed horse sculpture for over €20,000.  Wow!

Afterwards, we made our way back to our waiting boat to continue to our next stop, the island of Burano.  This was another 40 or so minutes along an equally-scenic route.  On the way, we saw the “leaning tower of Burano”, the bell-tower of St. Martin’s Church, built between 1703 and 1714, and which became unstable more or less immediately, possibly because of the island’s watery foundations.  The problem increased up until the second World War, until an acceleration of the issue forced the City of Venice to carry out static consolidation works, which ended in 1970.

Burano is famous for its beautiful hand-made lace, and we were taken into a shop and shown by one of the ladies how the lace is made.  First of all, the outline of the shape or pattern is stitched by sewing machine onto some waxed brown paper; the thread used for the lace is then started off in the stitching and is then linked back to itself, without ever sewing through the paper.  Once the intricate lace pattern is established and the item finished, the paper is then removed.

Burano has been producing hand-made lace for over 400 years, and we were shown into a room that had lots of examples of antique lace, including the most amazing wedding dress.  There was also a shop where visitors could buy items such as tablecloths, napkins, runners, doilies etc. as well as shoes and handbags decorated with lace.  As expected, they were all very expensive.

After our visit to the lace shop, we had about an hour’s free time to look around the island.  It was a very colourful and picturesque place with a laid-back charm, a small canal with bridges over it, and shops and pavement cafés either side, all of them doing a roaring trade.

We enjoyed looking in the shop windows at the various crafts, including the ubiquitous Venetian masks.  A temptingly-delicious smell emanating from a bakery reminded us that it was lunchtime, and we went in and bought a large, almond-flavoured biscuit each.  We then went into an off licence where we bought a bottle of Prosecco, two cans of cold beer and two small bottles of Aperol Spritz, which we’d enjoy on our balcony later on.

We sat by the side of one of the small waterways and enjoyed our cold beer, then made our way back to where our boat was moored.  On the way, we passed several colourful stalls selling papier-mâché, but beautifully decorated, masks for only ten Euros each.  As the Queen Victoria is going to be holding a Masquerade Ball on Monday, I decided to buy one in white, gold and purple, which will go fantastically well with the black and purple ball gown I plan to wear.  I had already brought a mask with me, but this one was so much nicer.

Once we were all back on the boat, we returned to the Queen Victoria in time for afternoon tea in the Queen’s Room, a most civilised affair, wherein cucumber sandwiches were served as well as wafer-thin roast beef and horseradish, egg and cress and ham and tomato, followed by cakes and a selection of warm scones with jam and cream, all served by attentive, white-gloved waiters.

Afterwards we went up on deck to see which other ships were in, and we spotted the familiar red funnel bearing the Fred.Olsen logo as the Braemar manoeuvred into the berth next to Queen Victoria.  We were able to get some great photos of this lovely ship, on which we’ve had the pleasure of cruising three times before.

Soon it was time to start getting ready for dinner after a very full day.  We were staying in port overnight, so there were a lot of spaces in the dining room as people took advantage of the extra time ashore.  Likewise, in the Golden Lion afterwards it was much quieter than usual, but we decided it wasn’t a bad thing as we enjoyed listening to the resident pianist before going in to the Royal Court Theatre to see a show by guest performers “West on Sunset”, who’d flown in to Venice today for a one-off performance on the QV.

They were actually very good; a group of four older guys singing and playing the guitar.  A lot of their music was from the 1960s and ‘70s, and included stuff from The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, Toto and Tom Petty.  We enjoyed the show a great deal.

We finished off the evening as usual; along to the Golden Lion for the quiz (we were rubbish!) then back to our stateroom to sit on the balcony, looking at the lights of Venice while enjoying the Aperol Spritzes we’d bought earlier on.  What an interesting day we had had, and we looked forward to exploring more of Venice tomorrow.

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